Red Doors

I imagine this has been discussed before, but if so, here we go again.

In a recent Mystery Worshipper report on the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin at Nashotah House, intrepid Mystery Worshipper ByrdsEye View includes this in the description of the building: "Design of the white-stone Neo-Gothic structure with classic red Anglican doors . . . ." So, about those "classic" red doors and the reason for them.

Red doors are sometimes seen on Episcopal/Anglican churches in my part of the U.S., but—based only on my observation, not on any actual accounting—they are the exception rather than the rule. When they are found, it seems to be on churches built in the 19th C and established in locations more influenced by the Oxford Movement, or on some late 20th/21st C churches that might have been influenced by the memory of red doors on older churches. But doing a mental inventory of two dozen or so Episcopal churches where I live and the surrounding area, maybe three or four have red doors. Of those, one dates from the late 1800s, the others date from the 1960s or later. When I cast my mind more widely to Episcopal churches I'm familiar with in the state, the proportion seems to generally hold.

Red doors on Lutheran churches, on the other hand, are very common in this part of the world—if the doors are wooden, there is a very high chance they are painted red. I'd heard about the association between red doors and Lutheran churches since I was a child. I don't think I'd heard anything about red doors being specifically associated with Episcopal churches until relatively recently.

Meanwhile, I can also think of churches of other denominations with red doors.

As for the meaning of the red door, I've heard/read a variety of explanations:
  • red doors recall the doors of the Schlosskirche at Wittenburg Castle (which according to some versions of the story were themselves red), where Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis, so the red doors are a symbol of the Reformation;
  • the red doors recall the blood of Christ;
  • the red doors recall the blood of martyrs;
  • the red doors are an ancient sign of sanctuary;
  • the red doors are a sign of welcome and hospitality¹;
  • some variation on or combination of the above.
So, about those red doors and the reason for them: Is this really an old tradition or is it something more recent around which stories of antiquity have been woven? Was it really a Lutheran or/and Anglican thing, or are those more recent associations that are assumed to be long-standing traditions? Are red doors on churches commonly found in Europe or elsewhere outside the U.S.? Do red doors actually have a traditional meaning, or are the variations explanations of why churches have red doors things that have just sort of grown up and taken on lives of their own?

¹ FWIW, there is an American women's clothing chain whose stores all have red doors, which the chain says is a sign of hospitality. I also know of one American college fraternity (founded by Baptists, again FWIW) whose houses all have red doors as a sign that a brother will always find a welcome there.

Comments

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Back in my halcyon Episcopalian days, I was told that US Episky churches didn't "earn" a red door until they'd been around for 100 years.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Our new (1870) Church of England doors are just plain untreated oak.
  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    edited March 26
    My early 21st century church has glass doors.

    But my very first church, where I was baptized, was built in the very early 20th century and does indeed have red doors.

    ETA: Both churches are Episcopal and in the U.S. -- the first one in the Northeast, the current one in the Southwest.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I can't off hand think of any church locally (UK) which has red doors. They tend, if anything, to be wood coloured.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited March 26
    BroJames wrote: »
    Our new (1870) Church of England doors are just plain untreated oak.

    So are ours (1920s Arts & Crafts...., but rather good specimens). They could do with a coat of something nice and refreshing, though, whatever that might be.

    Oil? Dobbin? Polish? Stain?

    On reflection, I can't think of any C of E church around here which has Red Doors. Plain doors, glass doors, all abound - and even our modest Cathedral has recently spent £££ in providing new glass doors at the west end, so that All And Sundry (as they pass by) can see within, even (or especially) whilst worship is in progress, and (on High Days and Holy Days) incense ascending!.

    (The new glass doors are inside, as it were. The original mediaeval wooden doors remain in situ, albeit mostly now OPEN!).

  • A Feminine ForceA Feminine Force Shipmate
    edited March 26
    mousethief wrote: »
    Back in my halcyon Episcopalian days, I was told that US Episky churches didn't "earn" a red door until they'd been around for 100 years.

    Wait ... wut?

    You had Episky days?

    In this incarnation?

    AFF

  • BroJames wrote: »
    Our new (1870) Church of England doors are just plain untreated oak.

    So are ours (1920s Arts & Crafts...., but rather good specimens). They could do with a coat of something nice and refreshing, though, whatever that might be.

    Oil? Dobbin? Polish? Stain?
    <snip>

    You need rub down the doors with either medium-coarse sandpaper or a wire brush to remove all algae, etc, and then apply linseed oil - 3 coats should last a fair time. If you want them to look fantastic (and repel rain a bit) you can try a final coat of warm wax after the oil but only if the oil has been properly absorbed. If you do the job properly keep an eye on them and remove any algae/slime immediately and re-oil, and then you'll find they only need an oil top-up/ re-wax every few years.

    I only know all that because as children it was me and the siblings' job to deal with the doors of our splendid parsonage house every so often: lots of external doors meant we did one every year.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Back in my halcyon Episcopalian days, I was told that US Episky churches didn't "earn" a red door until they'd been around for 100 years.

    Wait ... wut?

    You had Episky days?

    In this incarnation?

    AFF

    I have made no secret of this. I have fond memories of my Episky days, learned a lot, worshiped with a lot of wonderful people. I am NOT one of those Orfies who bitch about the Episcopal church. Although I think Spong should have been muzzled.
  • A Feminine ForceA Feminine Force Shipmate
    edited March 26
    mousethief wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Back in my halcyon Episcopalian days, I was told that US Episky churches didn't "earn" a red door until they'd been around for 100 years.

    Wait ... wut?

    You had Episky days?

    In this incarnation?

    AFF

    I have made no secret of this. I have fond memories of my Episky days, learned a lot, worshiped with a lot of wonderful people. I am NOT one of those Orfies who bitch about the Episcopal church. Although I think Spong should have been muzzled.

    Sorry I missed those references. Maybe they came during my ten year shore leave.

    Nevermind it's all good. Just a surprise.

    And I agree one can have too much of Spong.

    AFF
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    As for the meaning of the red door, I've heard/read a variety of explanations:
    • red doors recall the doors of the Schlosskirche at Wittenburg Castle (which according to some versions of the story were themselves red), where Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis, so the red doors are a symbol of the Reformation;
    • the red doors recall the blood of Christ;
    • the red doors recall the blood of martyrs;
    • the red doors are an ancient sign of sanctuary;
    • the red doors are a sign of welcome and hospitality¹;
    • some variation on or combination of the above.
    [/sub]

    This reminds me of a delightful book that was written as a parody of those What to expect when you're expecting books. It included a discussion of whether cloth v disposable diapers were more environmentally friendly-- with a paragraph defending each choice. Then it concluded by saying "so just decide whichever is easier for you, then memorize the appropriate paragraph to defend your choice."

    I'm sort of suspecting that red doors became fashionable at a certain point in time for reasons entirely aesthetic-- and why not? But from there we were able to come up with a host of pious-sounding explanations to defend that choice. I'm sure we could do the same for blue doors (purity! righteousness! fidelity!" or green doors (new life! growth!) or natural wood grain doors (authenticity!) or the clear glass doors ("transparency! vulnerability!").

  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    I'm sort of suspecting that red doors became fashionable at a certain point in time for reasons entirely aesthetic-- and why not?
    I have a hunch you’re right, though the two non-church examples I gave above do have me wondering if there might be something to the “hospitality” explanation.

    I’m tagging @Gramps49, @Lamb Chopped and @kmann on the chance they might have a Lutheran perspective. (At the moment, I can’t think of any other Lutherans aboard ship).

  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    {Slight tangent.}

    There was a red-door episode of the old "Kung Fu" TV series, from the '70s. There was a red door in the Shaolin monastery. The young monks would subconsciously absorb it; and it showed up in their dreams, hiding something they weren't ready to deal with yet.
  • Okay, with no sort of authority whatsoever: the blood of Christ. It's really, really common for older Lutheran churches in St. Louis. Same explanation for red church carpets. However, I am told that red doors on houses (like the one on ours) signify that the mortgage is wholly paid off (as if).
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Okay, with no sort of authority whatsoever: the blood of Christ. It's really, really common for older Lutheran churches in St. Louis. Same explanation for red church carpets. However, I am told that red doors on houses (like the one on ours) signify that the mortgage is wholly paid off (as if).
    Thanks LC. And you know, now that you mention the mortgage being paid off, I recall that I’ve heard that before—specifically in an Episcopal context. Perhaps it’s connected to what mousethief remembers from his Episky days about a church having to be around for 100 years to earn red doors.

    Meanwhile some googling turned up this page at the United Methodist Church site: Why do so many churches have red doors? The explanations given mirror those in this thread, but I thought it was interesting that it was on the denominational website of a non-Lutheran and non-Anglican denomination.

    I also found this from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC (scroll down a little ways), which agrees with your explanation. The article quoted dates from 1983, and in it the authority consulted—a chapel dean of a Lutheran seminary—describes the use of red doors as “relatively recent.”
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I used to work on the theory that there was somewhere a Congregational paint merchant in England who had an excess of pale blue paint which he sold off cheap to churches in the Congregational Union and so it became the colour for all church woodwork and railings. This continued with the URC. I mean it was a better explanation than devotion to Our Lady but then I traced another lineage. This works up to a point but the Waldensian Crest has a similar blue background.
  • BroJames wrote: »
    Our new (1870) Church of England doors are just plain untreated oak.

    So are ours (1920s Arts & Crafts...., but rather good specimens). They could do with a coat of something nice and refreshing, though, whatever that might be.

    Oil? Dobbin? Polish? Stain?
    <snip>

    You need rub down the doors with either medium-coarse sandpaper or a wire brush to remove all algae, etc, and then apply linseed oil - 3 coats should last a fair time. If you want them to look fantastic (and repel rain a bit) you can try a final coat of warm wax after the oil but only if the oil has been properly absorbed. If you do the job properly keep an eye on them and remove any algae/slime immediately and re-oil, and then you'll find they only need an oil top-up/ re-wax every few years.

    I only know all that because as children it was me and the siblings' job to deal with the doors of our splendid parsonage house every so often: lots of external doors meant we did one every year.

    Thanks - it was linseed oil I was trying to think of. Another item for the PCC Agenda!

  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Red doors on Lutheran churches, on the other hand, are very common in this part of the world—if the doors are wooden, there is a very high chance they are painted red. <snip> Are red doors on churches commonly found in Europe or elsewhere outside the U.S.?

    I had never heard of this phenomenon. I assure you it is not true of Evangelical Lutheran churches in Canada. Out of the 500-odd congregations in the ELCiC, I have personally darkened the doors of probably one hundred of those church buildings* and I can think of only one of them with red doors: Redeemer, High Park in Toronto.

    So I can say with confidence that this is not at all commonly found around here, for values of "here" meaning from northern Alberta to southern Ontario and points in between. Evangelical Lutheran church buildings have wood, glass, or metal doors, but red painted doors are a thing unknown. A cursory search indicates this as a feature of American Lutheran churches, especially those east of the Mississippi.

    *figure based on a highly nomadic past, wider church involvements, a quick calculation, and family conversation

  • KayAreCeeKayAreCee Shipmate
    edited March 27
    Also Lutheran, also American. My quick top-of-the-head mental survey of the eighteen-to-twenty Lutheran churches I've known (primarily in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa, for what that's worth) only comes up with maybe half, if that, having red doors. And yet, I've also grown up with the stereotype that All Churches Have Red Doors.

    The church I grew up in was one of those, until I was in high school and the congregation did a rather substantial renovation project. They repainted the formerly red doors to a terrible mustard color. After a great hue and cry from members of the congregation, the doors got repainted to be red pretty quickly! (And then eventually replaced by steel-and-glass fire doors, whose metal parts were still painted red, because I don't think the property committee wanted to fight that battle again...)

    The only meaning behind red doors that I ever heard was that a red door meant that the mortgage was paid off, as Lamb Chopped said above, but I doubt that's necessarily the case for churches. Certainly, the congregation of my youth has owned their land and building for ages, but they were definitely okay with repainting the red doors to be the terrible mustard-yellow color.
  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Dead Horses Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    I've lived in Canada for over 70 years and have never seen a red door on any church. Nor in the UK in the 4 years I lived there. I'd never heard of a red church door until this thread.
  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    I just did a Google image search of "churches red doors" -- wow!

  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Pigwidgeon wrote: »
    I just did a Google image search of "churches red doors" -- wow!
    I know, right? The red doors are quite striking.

    And this is the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin (from Wikipedia’s page on Nashotah House), which was the subject of the Mystery Worshipper report that prompted my question.

  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Red doors fiarly rare in these parts of New England. The first parish I attended here, founded in the late 1700's, 'new church' built in 1860's , had stout plain wooden doors. And then some very vocal person insisted that they must be red. I was newly on Vestry then, and astounded at how viscious the discussion could be over just which shade of red was the appropriate shade. They have never been repainted.
  • OblatusOblatus Shipmate
    edited March 29
    I remember hearing someone explain that red doors meant this is a place of sanctuary (maybe physical, but certainly spiritual). Just reporting what I've heard.

    Cue the Hunchback...
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    We used to have red doors at our building, but I always thought it was because they symbolized a fire escape. Just recently we replaced them with glass doors because we wanted to show we are an open community. The people really like the new doors.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    We used to have red doors at our building, but I always thought it was because they symbolized a fire escape.
    :lol:

    Just recently we replaced them with glass doors because we wanted to show we are an open community. The people really like the new doors.
    The Lutheran church just up the street from our church has (mostly) glass doors, but the metal frames holding the glass are red, as @KayAreCee described above.

    Thanks to all for the responses. They have largely confirmed my suspicion—that the “classic” “Tradition” of red doors on churches generally and on Lutheran or Anglican churches in particular is a relatively recent and somewhat regionalized thing, to which romanticized symbolism from ages past has been assigned.

    To be fair, as such things go red doors are a nice tradition. They can be quite striking, and they do seem to invite one in. They seem to be one of those things that one almost wishes really was more of an ancient tradition than it really is.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    We double-checked this morning, and St Sanity has good red doors at the west, into the porch, to the vestry and at the transept. Not game to ask why.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Well, I am laughing. For a bit over a year, our place has been transforming the courtyard in the front of the church. (And very successfully I might add. It is quite attractive and welcoming now, complete with a columbarium, a nice water feature and things upon which a child can climb and play that don't look like playground equipment.)

    The church newsletter has just arrived, and it contains the news that the last part of the renovation will be happening next week—the existing double wooden doors will be replaced by a single, handicapped accessible, door with glass panels on either side to let natural light into our dark narthex. The current doors are painted white. I guess the reader knows what color it has been decided the new door will be painted. :lol:

    To be fair, I think the red door will be very striking in appearance. And aside from the usual reasons given for a red church door that are found above and that were briefly mentioned in the newsletter (with some appropriate qualifications about the actual historicity of those reasons, I could add), there are local reasons that the red door might be seen as a sign of welcome by some we seek to serve. So, while I'm laughing, I also approve of the choice.
Sign In or Register to comment.